August 25, 2014
By Mike Collins
Pilots need safety, good pricing, and fun when they arrive at a destination—whether it’s a fuel stop or they’re staying several days, says Michael Thayer. “I never went to an FBO I thought was fun,” added Thayer, president and CEO of Flying Tigers Aviation at Chino Airport in Chino, California (home of the next AOPA regional Fly-In Sept. 20).
“Your wife, girlfriends, and kids typically don’t want to fly with you because airports are no fun,” explained Thayer, who has an extensive background in Hollywood doing stunt work, acting, and production. In fact, he still does some acting and stunts. “Coming here is an experience we want people to enjoy. It’s a full immersion experience.”
The FBO, which opened in June 2013, has a vintage appearance. A porch stretches across the front of the building, and a faux guard tower—outfitted with Hollywood-surplus prop machine guns—holds large, digital fuel-price signs. An outdoor barbecue area is available to visiting pilot groups, free of charge.
Inside, shelves fabricated from 55-gallon drums and old ammunition boxes hold convenience-store items, snacks, and soft drinks, including Coca-Cola imported from Mexico that contains the original recipe’s cane sugar. Some products, such as RC Cola and MoonPies, have been made since before World War II. Staff members dress in period clothing. Recordings of Tokyo Rose wartime broadcasts play over loudspeakers.
Thayer said his Hollywood background was helpful in decorating the facility. For example, the end tables on the porch are ammunition boxes that were props in the movie Pearl Harbor.
Martial arts got Thayer into the movies. His participation in a weekly martial arts event in Los Angeles introduced him to Chuck Norris, Eric Lee, Hulk Hogan, and others. Later, Thayer trained Farrah Fawcett—as well as Bruce Lee’s son Brandon—in martial arts.
In addition to the FBO, Thayer has one of the airfield’s original World War II hangars. He learned that Robert Lee Scott Jr., a member of the Flying Tigers who flew more than 300 combat missions in China, had been one of the Army’s chief flight instructors at Chino—in fact, Thayer said, Scott’s office was in the room he now uses as his hangar office. Not only did that inspire the FBO’s name; he has acquired the Flying Tigers Aviation brand and is exploring the idea of franchises.
Thayer, who has been involved in aviation since 2002, owns a helicopter and is learning to fly it. Business has kept him busy, however, and he hopes to complete his training next year.
“We want to be a destination. People never go to an airport for the FBO. They will go to Camarillo [California] for the barbecue,” Thayer said. “You have to feel at home when you come here. The pilots have to feel it’s theirs, not ours.”
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
AOPA has announced plans for five new fly-ins in 2015 following the success of last year's inaugural events. Events will be held in California, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, and Tennessee.
In an effort to increase member engagement, one of AOPA President Mark Baker’s first acts as the association’s new leader was to move away from one annual convention and instead host a series of regional fly-ins to “meet the members where they are.”
AOPA's final fly-in of the year a resounding success with thousands of pilots, hundreds of airplanes, and dozens of activities.
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